Voyager muses on PNG islands
May 1, 2007
I'm anchored at the village of Yotchibol, inside the lagoon at Green Island. Where is Green Island? It's an atoll, one of the furthest eastward islands of Papua New Guinea. American forces used it as an air base to bomb nearby Japanese strongholds during World War II. I never heard of it until I reached Kavieng, on New Ireland, which I'd never heard of before Wewak on the Papuan main island. I'd never heard of Wewak before Indonesia...and so on.
Once off any of the cruising milk runs it becomes a crap shoot which islands one ends up at. The five small island groups which include Green seem so remote yet my Hammond Atlas actually names them on a map of Major Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Which got me wondering exactly how many islands are there in the world? Somebody must have compiled a database but all I have for reference is The New York Times Almanac for 2006 which lists some 275 "important" world islands. Yet Papua New Guinea has 600 besides the big main island. If you spent a week at each of these, it would take twelve years to visit them all.
In that respect, each island respresents dozens unvisited. And since we don't know the unvisited, it doesn't matter what we're missing. Four of the five Eastern Island groups are quite primitive. Lihir, the fifth, has one of the largest recently developed gold mines in the world. As we approached on an overcast night, the clouds reflected the mine's lights, there was cloud to cloud lightning to our south, and unknown ships passing on strange courses. It made me think of H. Rider Haggard and his 1885 novel King Solomon's Mine. Why did I think of that? It's the way my mind works on passage. Lihir--Ophir. The place the Old Testament says they fetched four hundred twenty talents of gold from for King Solomon.
We stayed at Lihir for less than twelve hours. The mine is run by Australians whose houses sit above dreary workers' housing and shantytowns. We didn't see any white faces ashore, unless they were behind smoked glass in passing SUVs. They certainly weren't in the excellent supermarkets. Lihir made us uncomfortable, and after dark we set out for Tanga. The darkness hid the mine's ugly gash but the lights stayed with us for a long time.
From Green Island we head to Gizo, which was recently hit by a tsunami. Don't know if any new islands appeared after the earthquake, though I'm told the reefs have shifted. The Almanac simply lists 10 large volcanic islands and 4 smaller groups for the Solomons. A quick glance at a planning chart comes up with 100. At our rate of travel Tom and I are likely to visit about twenty.